How to Get the Most Out of Signal and Encrypted Chat


On Android, you can make Signal your default messaging app by going to Settings > Apps & notifications > Advanced > Default Apps > SMS app, and picking Signal. Just remember that not everyone you text also has it installed, and that an iOS user you’re texting with might check their Signal app less often than iMessage. (iOS still doesn’t let you change the default messaging app, sorry!)

Last thing: Signal recently introduced profile PINs, which will make it easier for you to keep your account data even when you transfer devices. You can set one up when you join, or head to Privacy > Signal PIN in your app settings to set or change yours anytime. The introduction of PINs was controversial among cryptography hard-liners, who questioned whether the so-called Secure Value Recovery they were tied to introduced potential vulnerabilities. It didn’t help, either, that Signal had at first made them mandatory. You can opt out now, though, by going to the Create PIN screen and tapping Select more, then Disable PIN. Just remember that if you do so, you won’t be able to bring your contacts with you to a new device.

Protect Your Screen

It’s important to make sure that what happens in Signal stays in Signal. That means keeping people from seeing what you’re doing there from a lock screen or when switching apps. There’s not much point in having an app for sensitive messages if they just pop up on your display whenever you receive one.

To turn off Signal lock screen notifications on iOS, go to Settings > Notifications, then scroll down and tap Signal > Show Previews > Never. On Android, the process is similar. From your home screen, head to Settings, then Apps & Notifications, where you can turn off all notifications. If you need more granular control, you can find that in the Signal app itself, where the steps are the same no matter what platform you’re on. Tap your profile, then Notifications, then Show, where you can choose whether to display the name, content, and actions for an incoming text, or just the name, or nothing at all. You can also mute notifications for a specific conversation for a set amount of time by tapping on a message thread, then the contact header, and then Mute. You can silence a contact’s notifications for an hour, a day, a week, or a year.

Signal also has a Screen Lock feature that requires your password—or FaceID or TouchID, whatever you use to get into your phone—to view the app’s contents. Within the Signal app on either platform, tap your profile, then Privacy, then toggle the Screen Lock option to on. Android gives you a little more granularity, with a Screen Lock Inactivity Timeout option that lets you set the feature to kick in after a certain amount of time.

While you’re there, go ahead and toggle Enable Screen Security. That’s what keeps Signal contents from showing up in your app switcher on both Android and iOS. On Android, it also prevents screenshots of Signal activities on your own device, but not for whoever you’re messaging.

Make Messages Disappear

While you can always delete messages manually along the way, that action only applies to your own phone. The people you’re chatting with still have it on their devices. To ensure that the conversation is deleted on both ends of a thread, you should embrace “disappearing messages” instead.

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